Since the N260GTX was introduced back in 2009, MSI has drawn a lot of positive attention to itself with its Lightning series. Lightning graphics cards are redesigned versions of high-end cards with a single goal in mind, to achieve the best possible overclocking results. Now the latest version is available in the form of the N680GTX Lightning, and of course we had to thoroughly test it.
The N680GTX Lightning is based on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680. Like the GTX 680 reference card, the MSI card comes with 2 GB GDDR5 memory. MSI redesigned the PCB, equipped it with a proprietary cooler and overhauled the BIOS. The Lightning comes standard overclocked.
The GK104 GPU on the GeForce GTX 680 runs standard at 1006 MHz (1058 MHz boost clock), but MSI raised this to 1111 MHz. Out of all GTX 680 cards we tested, only ASUS created an ever higher standard overclock, which you can see here in this comparison table. The GDDR5 memory MSI left at 1502 MHz.
The PCB on the Lightning has been redesigned compared to the reference GTX 680. MSI added more phases to the power-supply for the GPU and the memory, for a total of eight phases for the GPU and three for the memory. So-called "Military Class" components are used for the capacitors, spools and other parts. The placement of all components is done in such a manner to make using LN2 tubes easier.
Standard GTX 680s come with two 6-pin PEG connectors for supplying 150 watts to the card (next to the 75 watts from the PCI-Express bus). The Lightning has two 8-pin connectors and can supply 300 watts. There are also voltage measuring points for the GPU, memory and PWM voltage, and plugs for connecting the pens from your multimeter. The BIOS switch lets you change between a normal BIOS and a LN2 BIOS, and the latter disables limits set on power consumption and so on. On the back of the GTX 680 Lightning there is the GPU Reactor, a small extra PCB with extra capacitors that are supposed to optimise the GPU power supply. Like on the Radeon HD 7970 Lightning we like to refer to it has "Marketing" Reactor.
The cooler comes from the Twin Frozr IV generation and has two large fans and three thick 8 mm heatpipes. When the graphics card first turns on, the fans initially blow the opposite direction in order to remove dust from the card. It's too bad that MSI kept the black/yellow colour scheme, as we noticed after publishing our HD 7970 Lightning review that most people preferred the old black and blue combination. MSI also uses the latter on their high-end motherboards.